Your business is your baby: You spend every waking minute trying to manage it and improve your products and services to meet your customers’ needs. There you are, doing the best you can, and you see a nasty comment come up on Google Reviews or Yelp calling out your business for poor performance. Studies tell us that customers that have negative experiences with a company are 50% more likely to post about it on social media than customers who had a positive experience, and 52% more likely to write a review on a site such as Yelp. Even if what they’re saying isn’t true, it can still impact the way potential customers view your business.

If the negative postings continue for a considerable amount of time or get increasingly nasty, the automatic instinct of the business owner is to explore legal proceedings against the person posting the mean comments. Defamation is the legal theory of someone causing damage to another with either spoken (slander) or written (libel) words that are untrue.  While you can choose to sue the individual for making defamatory statements, defamation lawsuits are difficult to win because you have to prove: (a) that the statement is in fact false; (b) that the person making the statement knew the statement wasn’t true, and (c) that the statement caused actual damage to your business. The first thing you have to do is analyze the truthfulness of the statement.  Is the customer just stating an opinion, (“AAA Carwash is the worst carwash service in the whole tri-state area.”) or are they actually making a false statement (“AAA Carwash is an illegal money laundering operation posing as a legitimate business.”)? If the statement is an opinion, then it is protected by the First Amendment and no matter how damaging, is not a basis for a defamation lawsuit. Similarly, if the statement is true, then that is also a complete bar to a successful defamation action.  Additionally, you should also be aware of how a legal action will reflect on your business. The negative press that may come with filing a defamation lawsuit may hurt your business even more than the negative comments. As a result, subject to some exceptions, defamation lawsuits are usually not the best option in dealing with negative online customer comments.

So, what do you do? Here are some tips on how to deal with negative customer comments posted online.

  • Respond to the Post

Write a post responding to the negative comment. The sooner you can post a response, the better. Be professional, state the facts, and don’t get emotional about defending yourself or your business. Briefly thank them for voicing their thoughts, apologize for any inconvenience, and encourage them to contact you privately to allow you to remedy the situation. You don’t want to continue the conversation in public where everyone can see it. Keep in mind other potential customers will be reading your response, so how you react publicly says a lot about how you run your business.

You may be tempted to delete the post from your unhappy customer, but it’s best not to. It’s important to be honest and straightforward about people’s opinions of your business; If all you have is raving reviews on your social media pages, potential customers might think you’ve made reviews up and question your honesty. You can also be sure that the angry customer will come back with their claws out if you delete their original post and make the situation even worse.

  • Encourage Happy Customers to Post Their Positive Reviews

A good way to cancel out the negativity from customers who are badmouthing your business is to encourage customers who have had a great experience with your business to write a positive review on your social media sites. Consumers rely heavily on online ratings to make their business decisions, positive reviews make 73% of consumers trust a local business so you want positive reviews, but you also want authenticity. Consumers can tell the difference between fake, gushing reviews and authentic consumer reports. Customers who visit review sites to see how others rate your business will be able to weigh the many positive reviews against the few negative ones. Positive reviews also help to push negative reviews down to the bottom of the page where they are less likely to be seen, but having a few negative reviews makes your page look much more realistic and balanced. Consumers usually understand that not everyone is going to love your business.

  • Send a Cease and Desist Letter

If things continue to escalate and the angry customer continues to call out your business in a public forum, you can hire an attorney to send a cease and desist letter threatening to file a defamation lawsuit if they don’t stop what they’re doing. Make it clear to them that you’re serious about taking legal action if they don’t stop. A cease and desist letter is a good option if you think the statements being made are or could be actually defamatory, and we usually advise our clients to never threaten legal action if you’re not prepared to follow through with the threat.  However, be prepared for potential fallout: the angry customer could either comply and leave your business alone, or perhaps get even angrier, post more negative comments and in some cases post an actual photo of the letter they received from your attorney.

Directly addressing customers who are badmouthing your business is never an easy task. If you need help figuring out the best course of action in dealing with negative online comments, contact us today.